Birth of the Bab

October 20

Today followers of the Baha’i Faith celebrate the Birth of the Báb, the Faith’s founder and one its two great modern Prophets.

Báb means “The Gate”. The Báb was born on October 20, 1819, and no, he wasn’t born “The Báb.” He was born Siyyad Muhammad Ali in Shiraz, Persia, and was raised by his uncle after his father’s death. He worked in the family trading house.

Around the time of his birth, a movement developed among the dominant group of Shi’a Muslims known as Twelvers. Twelvers live by the Qur’an and Muhammad’s teachings as do all Muslims. But they also follow the teachings of the eleven great Imams, successors of Muhammad, beginning with Ali ibn Abu Talib (600-661 C.E.) and ending with Hassan ibn Ali (846-874 C.E.)

So why are they Twelvers if there are only 11 Imams?

The Twelfth Imam was the son of Hassan ibn Ali. He was about 4 years old at the time of his father’s death in the 9th century. Twelvers believe the boy was taken into hiding at that time, and would return when the time is right to save mankind. He is known as the Qa’im, the Shi’a Messiah.

The Báb grew up at a time when Shi’a clerics were preaching about the Qa’im’s imminent return to Persia.

Unlike Christianity’s Jesus, little is known about the circumstances of the Báb’s birth. But we do know that on May 23, 1844, at age 24, he first made his divinity known to a Twelver named Mulla Husayn in what is celebrated by followers of the Baha’i Faith as The Declaration of the Báb.

Mother Teresa Day – Albania

October 19

“If in coming face to face with God we accept Him in our lives, then we are converting. We become a better Hindu, a better Muslim, a better Catholic, a better whatever we are…

“What approach would I use? For me, naturally, it would be a Catholic one…What God is in your mind you must accept. But I cannot prevent myself from trying to give you what I have…”

Mother Teresa

Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu was born in Skopje, Albania (now Macedonia) between the Ilinden anti-Ottoman Uprising and the outbreak of the First World War.

At age 8, her father died. At 18, she moved to Ireland to join the Sisters of Loreto, with whom she began her monastic training in India the following year. Agnes chose the name Teresa, after Teresa of France, the patron saint of missionaries who died in 1897 at age 24.

Sister Teresa taught students at the Loreto convent school in Calcutta for several years. On September 10, 1946, on her annual retreat to Darjeeling, she felt the call of God, telling her to work not within the confines of the school, but among the sick and poor of the streets.

She exchanged her convent habit for a simple cotton chira, became an Indian citizen, and continued to help the poorest of the poor for nearly 50 years. She established the Missionaries of Charity in 1950 to help “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society…”

The Missionaries currently operate over 600 missions in 123 countries.

I don’t think there is anyone else who needs God’s help and grace more than I do…I need His help twenty-four hours a day. And if days were longer, I would need even more of it.

Mother Teresa

Today, Mother Teresa’s homeland of Albania honors her with a national holiday. October 19 is the anniversary of the day in 2003 that she was beatified by the Vatican.

“Christ will not ask how much we did but how much love we put into what we did.”

Mother Teresa

“Do not imagine that love to be true must be extraordinary. No, what we need in our love is the continuity to love the One we love.”

Alaska Day

October 18

“Some return from Alaska. Not all die there. They return blind and rheumatic for the rest of their lives, with hands useless, shriveled as if in a gesture of perpetual anguish. Hands that long hours with the fishnets went numb from cold and chests that, worn-out from coughing lost all strength… Adventures! Fortunes! All a lie! Alaska is the hell that extinguishes faith and quickens curses to the lips.”

Alfonso Fabila, “The Horrible Hell of Alaska,” 1929

Well things have gotten a little better since Alfonso wrote his memoir, and today the state is home to over 700,000 Americans. October 18 is Alaska Day, celebrating the day in 1867 that Russia transfered 1.7 million square kilometers to the United States.

Signing of Treaty of Cessation of Russian Alaska to U.S.
Signing of Treaty of Cessation of Russian Alaska to US

Recently my optometrist moved there. Now he’s an optical Aleutian. (Rim shot)

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Alaska is the largest state.

How big is it?

Alaska is so big, if it were a country, it would be the 18th largest in the world.

It’s bigger than France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Italy, Switzerland, Portugal, Austria, and Greece combined.

According the Alaska Science Forum, Alaska has more coastline than all other states combined, and its lake areas alone are larger than the Hawaiian Islands.

17 of the 20 highest mountains in the United States are in Alaska.

Its former governor could see Russia from her house. (This has been disputed.)

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Secretary of State William Seward purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867 for 2 cents an acre. The deal, known as “Seward’s Folly”, paid for itself within 30 years. In 1896, gold was discovered near the Yukon, thus beginning the great Klondike Gold Rush.

After World War II, Seward was further vindicated when Alaska became one of the U.S.’s most prized possessions in terms of strategic defense. At its western-most point, Alaska is only 55 miles from Eastern Siberia.

These days residents of the lower 48 cherish Alaska for its wildlife and environmental diversity, as well for its large reserves of untapped oil. Because of this dichotomy, the state is the frontline in the battle between environmental groups and proponents of cost-efficient energy.

Alaska comes from an Aleut word meaning “the mainland.” The state’s motto is “North To the Future!”


15th of Tishri (October 12-19, 2011)

In the month of Tishri, Jewish holidays go from one extreme to the other. The month begins with the spirited Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) to Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), the most solemn fasting day in the Hebrew calendar. But on the 15th of the Tishri, celebrants are encouraged to eat, drink and be merry for Sukkot, the Feast of the Tabernacles.

Sukkah means ‘booth’ or ‘hut’. It refers to a temporary shelter like the kind the ancient Hebrews built during their 40 years wandering the desert. The festival of Sukkot lasts for seven days.

“Beginning with the fifteenth day of the seventh month, after you have gathered the crops of the land, celebrate the festival to the Lord for seven days…On the first day you are to take choice fruit from the trees, and palm fronds, leafy branches and poplars, and rejoice before the Lord your God…This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come…Live in booths for seven days…so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in booths when I brought them out of Egypt.”

Leviticus 23

There are all sorts of rules describing how to make one. For instance, you need to be able to see the stars from inside. We tried finding a Sukkah on Shopzilla, but all we got was this.

One of the main traditions of Sukkot is the waving of the ‘Four Species’; two branches (myrtle and willow), a palm frond, and an etrog (a type of lemon). The four elements of nature are bundled together and waved as shown here.

According to Judaism 101:

Many Americans, upon seeing a decorated sukkah for the first time, remark on how much the sukkah (and the holiday generally) reminds them of Thanksgiving. This may not be entirely coincidental…The pilgrims were deeply religious people. When they were trying to find a way to express their thanks for their survival and for the harvest, they looked to the Bible for an appropriate way of celebrating and found Sukkot.

My 1st Canadian Thanksgiving

2nd Monday in October

This weekend I shared something with my one year-old niece: our first Canadian Thanksgiving. She was born just after Thanksgiving last year.

The most glaring difference I’ve noticed between Thanksgiving in the U.S. and in Canada is that Canadian Thanksgiving is on a Monday. Other than that, it’s pretty much the same.

In the process of celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving, I have learned a few other things about our Canuck brethren and sisteren.

1. Conservatives are blue and liberals are red, which when you think about it, makes more sense.

2. Election season in Canada is only SIX WEEKS LONG! Two years less than what we’ve had to endure south of the border.

3. It’s traditional for the Finance Minister to wear brand-new shoes when presenting the new budget.

4. Saskatchewan, despite its reputation as a barren wasteland, is the sunniest province in Canada. (Which is like being the rainiest place in the Sahara.)

5. Ottawa is the second or third coldest capital in the world, tied with Moscow, and right behind Ulan Batar, Mongolia.

6. Terrence & Philip is not a real TV show.

No Thanksgiving would be complete without breakfast at the Dutch Wooden Shoe Pannekoek House

We celebrated like true Canucks, enjoying breakfast at the Dutch Wooden Shoe Pannekoek House. In the afternoon we followed the age old wisdom of Canadian superstar Robin Sparkles…

[published October 13, 2008]

Navami & Dashami

October 5-6, 2011

Maha Navami

According to an 1815 French text…

“Maha-navami, known also under the name of Dasara, [is] specially dedicated to the memory of ancestors. This feast is considered to be so obligatory that it has become a proverb that anybody who has not the means of celebrating it should sell one of his children in order to do so.”

Okay—celebrants don’t actually sell off the kids to honor to celebrate, but the holiday is a big deal in India (especially Bengal) as well as parts of Nepal, Bhutan, and other countries with Bengal populations.

Also, Maha-navami isn’t the name of the whole celebration. Navami means ninth day, and refers to the ninth and penultimate day of the Durga Puja festival. It’s observed in different ways throughout the subcontinent.

Maha-navami falls right after Maha-ashtami (eighth day) and opens with Sandhi Puja, the ritual that recalls Durga’s defeat over Mahishasura’s two generals, Mundo and Chando.


The following day, Dashami, is a sadder occasion, as worshippers of Durga try to postpone the inevitable.

Dashami is the day when Goddess Durga accompaning her children sets for Kailash, her husband’s abode. With a heavy heart the Bengalis immerse the clay idol of Durga in the sacred Ganges bidding her goodbye and earnestly waiting to see her again the next year…

Durga Puja – the Morning After (The Ecological Impact)

Durga Puja – Bengal

Durga Puja is the largest celebration of Bengal and Bangladesh, and is also celebrated throughout Bhutan, and Nepal. It worships the mother goddess Durga, who was called into existence by the trinity of Hindu gods, Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu, to defeat the demon Mahishasura.

According to legend, Shiva gave the once-loyal Mahishasura a power that he would later regret: that Mahishasura would not be killed by any man.

Confident he could never be stopped, Mahishasura went all maniacal on the lesser gods (Devtas) and plunged the Universe into havoc.  The gods pleaded with Shiva, Brahma, and Vishnu. The three created the only thing that could stop Mahishasura: an all-powerful goddess.

Durga was made from the best of all gods:

Her face reflected the light of Shiva,
her ten arms were from Lord Vishnu,
her feet were from Lord Brahma,
the tresses were formed from the light of Yama, the god of death
and the two breasts were formed from the light of Somanath, the Moon God,
the waist from the light of Indra, the king of gods,
the legs and thighs from the light of Varun, the god of oceans
and hips from the light of Bhoodev (Earth),
the toes from the light of Surya (Sun God),
fingers of the hand from the light of the Vasus, the children of Goddess river Ganga
and nose from the light of Kuber, the keeper of wealth for the Gods.
The teeth were formed from the light of Prajapati, the lord of creatures,
the Triad of her eyes was born from the light of Agni, the Fire God,
the eyebrows from the two Sandhyas,ie, sunrise and sunset,
the ears from the light of Vayu, the god of Wind.

The gods then armed her to the teeth (which as we know, were Prajapati’s) and she proceeded to kick the surprised Mahishasura’s butt. Since that day, Durga has symbolized the unity of the forces of good over those of wickedness.

Durga Puja lasts almost a fortnight, beginning on the 12th of Aashin in the Bengla calendar (September 29 in 2008), but doesn’t really get kicking until the 18th of Aashin (October 5 this year) and lasts four or five days:

October 2008 (Aashin 1415)

October 3 (evening) to October 4: Maha Panchami

October 4/5: Maha Shashti

October 5/6: Maha Saptami

October 6/7: Maha Ashtami

October 8: Maha Navami

October 9: Dashami

Today’s Maha Shashti is “the sixth day of the moon when Goddess Durga is welcomed with much fanfare and gusto. Look for the ‘Bodhon’ rituals when Goddess Durga is unveiled.” –

Though the religious aspects of the festival are still strong, Durga Puja has become a cultural and community celebration in recent decades.

German Unity Day

October 3

On this day in 1990 the great divide between East and West Germany, the front line between Soviet and Western ideologies for over four decades, was erased in an instant. Germany became one nation for the first time since 1945.

Fall of the Berlin Wall, Nov. 9, 1989
Fall of the Berlin Wall, Nov. 9, 1989

The reunification of Germany on October 3, 1990 followed the dramatic destruction of the Berlin Wall on November 9 the previous year.

A whole generation of young Germans have grown up post-reunification; the oldest are now adults. Despite the spontaneous joy and camaraderie that accompanied reunification, for many years a few Germans on both sides of the former Iron Curtain waxed nostalgic and echoed Ronald Reagan’s sentiments with a twist: “Mr. Putin, Put back this Wall!”

The West’s discontent lay partially in the economic struggle they had shouldered since 1990, adapting to both a new European Union and the weaker economy of the East. In the East, on the other hand, though they may have lacked fancy cars and TVs during the Soviet era, many missed the security that socialism afforded.

Unity Day doesn’t provide a solution to economic woes, but it offers something more than that. An opportunity to declare something that for many decades was forbidden in Germany: pride in one’s country.

The expression of national pride, something taken for granted in much of the rest of the world, was a big no-no during the half-century following World War II.

On October 3, as Oktoberfest nears its end, the ban on pride is lifted for a day. From the snow-covered peaks of Garmish-Partenkirchen, to the white cliffs of Rugen, to the harbors of Hamburg, to the phoenix that is Leipzig, Germans come together to celebrate what they all have in common.